photo: Eddy van Wessel


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting old and staying active

I stood at a bus stop in Amsterdam when it hit me. Car after car that passed me, was driven by someone with grey hair. Even buses and business cars were driven by people of over sixty. I realized how much the Dutch are active up to a high age.

Look in Sulaymaniya or Erbil, or wherever in Kurdistan. Most people you see on the streets are young, or at least under fifty or so. The elderly you may see, look old and are often not too mobile, walking slowly or with a cane.

Of course, the difference lays firstly in the birth rate. Low in Holland, diminishing slowly but still high in Kurdistan. Half of the population is under twenty, and only four percent is over 63. That is what you see in the streets.

The average age in Holland is 39, and Dutch people live till they are 80. About sixteen percent of all Dutch are over 65, and of them a quarter is over eighty.

But if you would mirror this situation to Kurdistan, I wonder if you would still see so many grey heads about. Not only because more people seem to dye their hair here, but because in the Kurdish society the elderly are not active. They tend to stay at home, often being looked after by their children. If they have a job, that is because they have no children who care for them, or no other income.

Though Holland has good pensions, the elderly pride themselves in staying active. They will work up till 65 and over, and they will use their spare time to walk, cycle, skate, swim and visit the sports school. They are often fiercely independent, live on themselves as long as possible, and mostly don’t want to depend on their children.

The fact that they are active, also gives them a better chance to grow old and remain active. They keep their body healthy and fit, so it will serve them longer. And they get to be 80 and more.
That is one of the main reasons why in Kurdistan elderly are so little visible. The whole culture of looking after your body because it has to serve you for a lifetime is not here. People eat the same food as they ate when they were poor, but now it causes them to become fat. The sense of healthy food, and the effect food has on your health is only just arriving in Kurdistan.

People over fifty-five are considered by the rest of the society as ‘old’, and they are no longer taking part. They deserve to be looked after, so it is thought. But is this what is best for them, and is it what they want?

If you know you can get old if you remain active, would many people not choose for that? 

This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

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